A Tudor folly with five floors, a great local and superlative views
FRESTON Tower is located on the River Orwell near Ipswich – from its rooftop you can see the cargo ships approaching from miles off, making their leisurely way to and from the dramatic Orwell Bridge.
The tower was built in 1578 by a wealthy Ipswich merchant called Thomas Gooding, though the exact reason for its construction is unknown. It may have been built in celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s progress to Ipswich in 1579. The fact that it has 26 windows spread over its six stories proves, however, that it was built to be enjoyed by those inside and admired by those outside.
My friends and I – it sleeps four – were thrilled by the prospect at staying in an “extravagant” Tudor folly – a tower built as a vanity project by a royal or a wealthy merchant. Up we drove from London, us four motley moderns, picking up the key from the local housekeeper’s house. We passed the Freston Boot pub, drove through a field, some woods and parked in front of the Tower, our seriously unlikely home for the weekend. We laughed: we felt so small and scruffy in comparison to this regal, beautiful, strange structure.
The first thing you notice is the idyllic combination of river and greenery; the tower is surrounded by oaks, beeches and chestnut trees, and the toot of owls and doves is ever-present – the birdwatcher among us was in heaven, and could barely be found without his binoculars on the tower top. The Orwell Bridge stands as a piquant reminder of modernity in what – from the vantage of the Freston Tower guest – looks like a Tudor world.
The tower makes no apologies for its height and symmetry: it’s one room per floor, which means a cardio workout if you want to go from kitchen to living room, as they’re five floors apart. Yet it’s genius: having the lounge on the top floor fulfills the purpose this place was designed for: to revel in the superlative view, from the comfort of a big comfy chair.
The kitchen is lovely and homey and there was everything from champagne flutes to a colander – you could have cooked a Michelin-starred dinner in there if you’d wanted. We stuck with local sausages, eggs and other delights – including Suffolk cider, beer and apple juice – bought from the Suffolk Food Hall, a five minute drive away. On the Saturday night we popped along to the Freston Boot across the field, and, sat amid an odd display of boots, ate local fried fish and beer.
The only thing that didn’t quite come up to modern standards was the bedroom situation. There are no doors – apart from those on the bathrooms and kitchen – so although there was a floor between the double bed and the two twins, you can hear everything, and the snores of my companions kept me awake at night.
In the day, we sunbathed by the river, strolled to the nearby marina, and picnicked on our private lawn. One day we drove to Aldeburgh and walked on the beach. This more than made up for any downsides of tower living – and we were very, very sorry to leave.
Freston Tower, Suffolk sleeps up to four people. Three-night weekends from £490, four-night midweek from £358, or weeks from £679. To book go to www.landmarktrust.org.uk.